Mabton seeks answers for $100,000 mistake

MABTON – The final matter brought up at last night’s Mabton City Council meeting may well have been of first importance: Artz-Fox Elementary School has not been sent a sewer bill since 2009.

The city’s public works lead, Chris Morris, raised the issue at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting.

He estimates the oversight may have cost the city up to $100,000 in lost funds, as Artz-Fox’s sewer payments prior to 2009 were about $20,000 per year.

Morris and city hall staff discovered the omission recently when there was a question about the accuracy of the water meter at the school. As a result, Morris had clerks look into the school’s billing history and it was found that Artz-Fox had made no sewer payments since 2009.

Morris told the council the mistake happened after former Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera and former Mabton schools assistant superintendent Charley Plesha addressed an error in sewer billings at Mabton High School.

The high school, Morris said, was getting billed for sewer costs related to irrigating its fields. To correct that error, a double meter was installed at the high school to ensure sewer bills reflected only water usage in the high school.

But that fix led to the error at Artz-Fox, he said, because somehow the notation about not issuing sewer bills for irrigation water at the high school got added by mistake to the elementary school’s account.

That resulted in no sewer bills at all for Artz-Fox and a loss of $1,700 a month in sewer fees, according to Morris’ estimate.

After last night’s meeting, city attorney Jamie Carmody said he would look into the issue to see what can be done about the lack of past payments.

The apparent loss of funds impacts the city of Mabton, which is in the process of raising utility rates for upgrades needed in its wastewater system.

Confounding the problem is that the mistake took place before virtually all of the current administrators and clerks at the city and school district office were hired.

Mabton Schools Superintendent Minerva Morales has been with the district since 2010, and said this morning she had not heard of the sewer billing issue at Artz-Fox.

“I certainly am not aware of it,” she said. “I’m going to probe into this and check with the city.”

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